Dec 032010

by Father Anthony, STL
Sussex, UK

Father Anthony’s pictures from the November 20, 2010 cardinal creating consistory.
Father Anthony’s initial reflections from attending the November 20, 2010 consistory.
Father Anthony’s post consistory notes. November 28, 2010.

The Row about condoms

Pope Benedict is a highly intelligent man and an outstanding theologian. This would be true even if he had never become a bishop or indeed the Pope. There is really no need to interpret his words. They are clear, and the meaning is clear. He is not questioning the teaching on contraception as spelt out by Pope Paul VI in the Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, and repeated on many occasions by Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict is responding to a specific question regarding difficult situations and moral choices.

Pope Paul was concerned with the question of sexuality in marriage. He teaches that there are two essential; aspects to married sexuality. It is at once “love-making” and “life-giving”. To separate these two aspects by the use of “artificial contraception” is to go against the will of God, and is thus wrong. Pope Paul does not discuss at all the question of sex outside marriage in this encyclical because it is not relevant. The Church clearly regards sex outside marriage in any form as wrong, and prohibited by the moral law. His concern is specifically with married sexuality.

Many pastors and moral theologians have given thought to the moral issues involved when people engaging in sexual activity outside marriage choose to make use of condoms or other forms of contraception that do not involve abortion. It has seemed to many that in an already objectively sinful situation the use of condoms would certainly not make the situation worse, and might be sign of some degree of moral responsibility.

As I understand the Holy Father’s words in the interview, this is precisely the point that he is making. It is newsworthy in that it is the first time that a Pope has made this point explicitly, but it does not represent in itself any change in Catholic teaching. Inevitably there will those who would apply a similar reasoning to other situations where the use of condoms could contribute to saving lives. That is an important debate, and there is no uniformity even at the highest levels in the Church on that question. Some will certainly find in the Holy Father’s words encouragement to give further thought to these very difficult situations, but, to my mind, what the Pope has actually said represents no change in teaching, but reveals what we already know; namely that Benedict XVI is a shepherd who knows how to give wise and prudent advice to those in need.

  14 Responses to “Father Anthony: The Row About Condoms Following Pope Benedict XVI’s Interview/Bool”

  1. Interesting dicussion can be found at Some clarifications at The discussion started with this ( article by Prof. Rhonheimer about the justified use of condom in case when one of the spouses is infected by HIV.

  2. Very good point by Father Anthony. Humanae Vitae truly refers to married couples. Sexual acts outside marriage are sins per se, regardless of possible condom usage. I can give two points: 1) if one is unable to restrain from one sin, one should indeed (in my opinion) try to avoid other sins that may result from the first one e.g. the sin of abortion, one of the greatest sins a person can commit. However, if a person intending to perform a sexual act already knows that possible conception would result in an abortion, this person’s mind is already corrupted to a large extent and I don’t think this person thinks in even broadest Christian terms. On the other hand, much more understanding can be given to a young couple that has serious intentions to marry soon and would be happy with a child resulting from an accidental conception. 2) The usage of condoms can make sins more frequent. An adulterer may feel freely to excercise extramarital sex frequently knowing that the condom prevents her/him both from conceiving a child she/he does not want and from illnesses. This refers to our young couple as well.
    To be perfectly honest, I am not perfect and the young couple example refers also to my premarital life. I know several happily married couples who conceived their first child before marriage and married soon afterwards (can there be a parallel with the Popes statement on the prostitute using a condom: a young couple first uses condoms, then develops a desire to marry, in this way feeling God’s grace, and, while still performing a sin, lets God to decide possible consequences of their action).

  3. Dear Marko,
    Thank you. I think, thanks to you, I have visited ‘chiesa’. I looked again just now … can’t find it. Is the Web site named after the pope?
    To me, I think the crux of the issue is what Christine Vollmer says in that post: “”Our Holy Father should stop talking about aberrant sex …”
    To me that was the most striking part.
    At a time when the all of the world is looking at the Pope re. the clergy sex abuse scandal … he starts talking about MALE PROSTITUTES!
    Maybe our friend from Austria can jump in … was it … Freudian?
    I don’t get it. I also, as you know, do not get the pope’s statement … in that long interview … about HIS infallibility. My post on this.
    Two things strike me:
    1/ I get the impression, and as ever I could be wrong, that the pope was not fully engaged when he was doing this interviews. It is like he is preoccupied, thinking of other things … while talking.
    2/ If you check the Web you will see that when I used to cover IT, rather than popes, I did a LOT of interviews of top IT folks, company heads and technologist. IF I liked them, and 98% of the time I did, I would make sure that they looked GOOD. If they said something that I thought would get them into trouble … I would point it out and get them to clarify. Once the new head of IBM’s Grid Computing (who did not have a background in mainframes) that mainframe utilization was in the 20% range. In the interview I asked him 3 times whether he was sure about this. Then, before I published the interview … I e-mailed him and called him … saying “look, we can change this … do you really want to go with 20%.” He came back and said YES. I again e-mailed him and said … “OK, I will print it but this will not do you any favors”. Yes, it caused an out roar. IBM pushes that mainframe utilization, rightly, is above 90%. It was the equivalent of the pope and condoms. Similarly, the BIGGEST criticism was from other IBMers. I had all my material. Suffice to say IBM shuffled the guy out of that job within 6 months! But, here is my point … a GOOD, CARING interviewer goes out of his way to PROTECT his subject. In the case of the pope he was thrown to the wolves! I would have to say that ‘Peter whatever’ had an agenda … and that agenda did NOT involve protecting the pope.
    Just my thoughts. Thanks, Marko.

  4. Marko,
    Did you see Kenny’s comment last night about the need for a young pope to appeal to the youth audience.
    Any thoughts on this re. pre-marital sex, contraception among the youth etc.
    Thanks, Marko.

  5. Anura,

    I doubt that the Pope was preoccupied or somehow careless in issuing his remarks. The language he used, including the use of ein Prostituierter (a [male] prostitute) strikes me as deliberate, because (if we ignore gigolos) sex between a male prostitute and a male client cannot result in pregnancy and condoms are thus not functioning as contraceptives.
    But that opens the conundrum of female prostitutes (a much larger demographic) and their need to protect themselves? Their sex can result in pregnancy but the relationship is not one that the Church sees as legitimate or that has a purpose of procreation anyway, so why not? Indeed, Vatican spokesman Lombardi did just that – state that Pope’s statement applies to all prostitutes regardless of gender, despite the fact that in latter the condom does act as a contraceptive even though it is not (primarily) used for that purpose.
    The next logical extension is to allow condom use for married couples where one partner is HIV positive. There you would go one step further, and allow a use of condom where it functions as a contraceptive in a relationship that is meant for procreation. Now, I do not believe Pope or the Vatican are willing to cross this bridge (yet) but I think it would be a good next step.
    Lombardi is right, this is not a revolutionary change, but it is a change, an evolutionary one. Note that B16, only a few years before, lamented that increasing access to condoms in Africa would make the AIDS problem worse and not better!
    Another point: what of the case I read in one of the chelsea articles of a female athlete who uses the Pill for period control. The author states that that is not contraception because she does not intend to have sex. But she can still have sex in the knowledge that it will work as a contraceptive, if she chooses to. And what if she is married? Does she still have to go through the (meaningless) motions .
    I think the larger point is that I still don’t understand why contraception is intrinsically an evil act any more than using medical technology to modify how our bodies function in other ways. And why is so-called “natural family planning” kosher in Catholicism anyway? After all, it is couples going out of their way, taking temperature, examining vaginal mucus, etc. all in order to prevent pregnancy. How are these not “actions specifically intended to prevent procreation”?

  6. Actually, this is Peter Seewald’s third interview with Joseph Ratzinger, although the first one after Ratzinger’s elections to the Chair of St. Peter. It is really obvious that the process of publishing the interview book did not include some expert who would realize that some pieces of the book may sound ambiguous or dangerous. On the other hand, the pope may not have wanted any corrections. He may have wanted to speak as a private person, as Professor Ratzinger, as Reverend Ratzinger, as Bishop Ratzinger. He may have been able to speak privately even as Cardinal Ratzinger, the Dean of the College of cardinals. But know, people do not perceive him as a private person. Papacy absorbed his privacy, his ability to give statements independent of his role as the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. This may be an awkward situation for a professor: inability to express his thoughts freely. He may be even more bothered by the fact that this preventing him to express his thoughts freely (in order to enable “damage control”) is a kind of hypocrisy connected with the present day politicians (who are true demagoes). But this, sadly, is the way the world functions.
    Meanwhile, it is funny to see a high United Nations official to praise the pope for his new statements on condom usage. This guy does not understand what the magisterium is, and what a private interview. unfortunately most people actually don’t get it. A good friend of mine informed me last week that the Church has solemnly approved of condom usage. Then we had an argument where she stated that the teachings of the Church are antiquated. I responded with comparing the sins of people living 2000 years ago and the present people. After she realized that her argument with antiquated teaching failed, she ended by calling all priests hypocrites.

  7. As ever you raise some brilliant points. That you. What you talk about in the last paragraph about ‘medical technology’ has been baffling me of late … as you might have read in my posts and comments. In vitro fertilization is condemned by the Church in all instances (though as you know JP I just before becoming pope congratulated and send his blessings to the first ‘test tube baby’), even among married couples using ALL THEIR OWN ‘parts,’ but it is OK for a cardinal to have a pace maker.
    I have a problem with the Pope talking about PROSTITUTION in general, and ein Prostituierter (a [male] prostitute).
    What was he thinking?
    Lets tackle male prostitution ignoring gigolos … as YOU suggest. So we are now into homosexual, male-on-male sex. WHAT WAS THE POPE THINKING?
    We are still in the midst of the clergy sex abuse scandal … where from what I can see, at least 80% of the CRIMES were committed on boys and young men. Male-on-male sex. So against this background the pope talks about male prostitutes and homosexual sex. It is as if he was saying SOMETHING about the clergy scandal!
    Prostitution is illegal in many countries in the world — though NOT Italy. Here … I found this.
    So by talking about male PROSTITUTES the pope was talking about an illegal act … never mind a sin.
    What was the pope thinking?
    Thanks, my friend.
    All the best.

  8. Marko,
    Yes, I knew this was the 3rd interview with Peter Seewald. I also read an interview OF Peter Seewald about his relationship with the pope. Yes, as a good journalist, he went out of his way to STRESS that he is OBJECTIVE when interviewing the pope. But, I could be wrong, I got a feeling that he wasn’t a great fan of the pope. Not sure what his religious affiliations are. But, IF I was interviewing the pope, and the pope mentioned male prostitutes or any prostitutes, I would have asked a number of follow-up questions, to let the pope get the record straight. To me, as somebody who has done a lot of interviews, it was a BAD interview. Interviews should be dynamic. Not static. You should ask follow-up questions to get answers in their right context. YOU as the person doing the interview has to always be SHARP, alert and able to tap dance.
    As for sins of people 2000 years ago … ONE thing comes to mind. They didn’t have an effective PILL. And the PILL changes and changed many things.
    But, as ever, good points, Marko.
    Thank you.

  9. In my opinion the pill is a dangerous bomb that helps spreading of veneral diseases. It can function only among a faithful couple. At least in Croatia, the pill helped spreading diseases. Statistically, much more young girls in Croatia are infected with a veneral virus or have a veneral disease than some 20-years ago. That is a fact. You may attribute it to some other cause. But I think it is the pill and irresponsible (and sometimes corrupted) doctors who prescribe it. At least in Croatia, doctors, in this case ginecologists, attend “educational seminars” in various parts of the world, which are actually ten-or-some-day tourist trips completely sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry, with a two-morning info about new products and leasure time for the rest 8 days. And many of those doctors receive cash provisions directly in their pockets. Then, when young girls come to their regular examinations, they urge them to take the pill. Of course, a young person, hearing that she is safe from pregnancy rightly accepts. The problem arises in case of promiscuity. Nota bene, the pill is a hormonal treatment. Being a son of two MDs and a nephew of a third one [none of them is a ginecologist 🙂 ], I would never recommend the pill to anyone, and to my daughter in particular. if they already have to use something, there is the old condom.
    As for sins 2000 years ago, they didn’t have the pill to add more lust to the chart of sins.

  10. A reply to the question why a cardinal could have a pacemaker and in vitro fertilization is forbidden may lie in the uniqueness of the marital act. Contraception is another side of the same problem. The Teaching of the Church, on one hand beleives that a child can be conceived only in a marital act which has a sacramental nature. On the other hand, reducing the marital act to pure satisfaction of one’s lust, preventing conception is a degradation of the marital acts and a sin.
    That is the position of the Teaching. The awareness confessioners that people are sinful is another. I understand and fully respect the teaching and agree with it. The fact that I am sinful and sometimes cannot resist my lust but want to avoid conception is another thing. It does not change the fact that the Teaching is right and I am wrong. I also shout at my wife while quarelling, in a situation where I believe I am right and she is wrong. And I will do it many more times. And still I go to confessions and report both my lust and my wrath.
    And, replying to Citizen of Dis, I am sure that Benedict XVI still thinks that increasing access to condoms in Africa would make the AIDS problem worse and not better. I share his opinion. Making people think their sex is safe of transmitting diseases, one is encouraged to behave more promiscuous. Some people like to buy expensive cars that are “more safe” and then rush along the streets and motorways, increasing the probability of an accident. In the West, it first comes to a frequent change of partners. Then it may come to one-night adventures. Next it may come to drunk I-don’t-remember-what-happened one-night adventures, where what happened included a sex with an unknown person without a condom. Then transmitting the disease (of which you are not aware) to several people.
    And the culture in Africa regarding sex is different than in the West.

  11. Dear Marko, my friend,
    Two things here:
    1/ You may already know this or your parents, as MDs, may have heard of it. At least in the US, probably because of the enriched foods, girls are reaching puberty earlier and earlier. Some even BEFORE they are 10 — and I know, at least, one. At that age, some would say at ANY AGE, they are not too good at dealing with this … especially the pain, discomfort etc. So doctors are putting them on the pill … and I think you already raised this in terms of an athlete.

    2/ You are too young to remember, but during the “God’s Banker” scandal, in the late 1970s, in Europe, there was constant claims that the Vatican invested in companies that made the Pill. I just found this, more recent, link. At least to this end, I do not think that the Vatican, even today, has any rules or principles in terms of how they invest their BILLIONS. Ironically, over here, he have companies, in particular this ‘fund,’ that only invests per Islamic principles. Well, part of their principles, SUPPOSEDLY the same as Christianity (though I don’t think that is still the case with Christians) is avoiding usury. So they don’t invest in banks or financial institutes. Well, as you know, our 2007-2009 melt down was all related to banks and financial. Amana had no holdings in these. Though they did take a hit, it wasn’t as bad as others. I have heard that the Vatican investments didn’t do too well during the downturn. Maybe they should have invested some of their considerable assets with Amana! I am NOT sure whether you can invest in Amana from Croatia. But tell your parents about them. It is one of the BEST funds in town.

    Thanks. Cheers.

  12. Marko,
    I get your point about the pill. Of course young girls (and boys) should have the difference between condoms (protects against pregnancy and most STDs) and the pill (protects against pregnancy only) taught to them in sex ed class. But I am pretty sure the Catholic Church in Croatia is opposed to such comprehensive sex ed, am I right?
    That said, the pill is more effective in preventing pregnancy than condoms (best bet: condoms + the pill; any pregnancy that gets through that is probably immaculate!) and condoms do affect sexual pleasure, so the pill is definitely a legitimate product. Again, people using these products need to be well informed about what they do and do not do, without religious and ideological restrictions.

    Marko, about your other comment about whether contraception is justified.
    Why would the pill and the condom etc. be disallowed when taking temperature, avoiding certain days etc. is ok? Both are people trying to have sex while minimizing the possibility of pregnancy. Don’t tell me that a couple that takes good notice of the woman’s cycle, measures her temperature and even examines her vaginal mucus is “open to possibility of new life!”
    The fact is, our sexual desires/drive as well as our fertility evolved when we simply needed more new humans to maintain the species because so many of us died, whether of disease or predation, before we could reproduce. There are three possibilities: either we achieve equilibrium, which we can do three ways: we increase death rate (back to the pre-industrial state of affairs), we have sex far less often (the Protestant couple solution from Meaning of Life “we have two children and we only had sex twice”) or we decrease our fertility. Or we don’t achieve equilibrium and have unsustainable population growth (or “fill the world with bloody children that we can’t bloody feed”). Out of these possibilities, I chose the reduction of fertility hands down.

    About condoms and STDs: I agree that a car is a good metaphor. You don’t remove seat belts, air bags, collapsible steering columns and ABS from cars because having these safety features encourages more reckless driving. RCC’s attitude toward condoms and spread of disease is like the ludicrous comment by a former German environmental minister (Jürgen Trittin) that instead of air bags cars should have a spike affixed to the steering wheel. That way everyone would drive extra carefully and slowly. That’s exactly what RCC suggests about fucking.
    Your claim that a society that has better access to and information about protection but is also more permissive would experience higher rates of STDs is not borne in reality. Compare Western Europe and US.
    WE is more permissive about sex, especially sex among teenagers and young adults. Here in the US many still expect premarital virginity and freak out when they find out their high school or even college student has been sexually active. And while contraceptives are generally well available, information often isn’t. Many conservative Christians send their children to christian schools or home school. And not even public schools are safe. Many teach the, often federally funded, abstinence only sex ed, which not only does not provide accurate information about condoms but often engages in purposeful misinformation.
    No surprise then that US leads WE in both teenage pregnancies and rates of STDs!

  13. The “intent” of Natural Family Planning is usually to prevent pregnancy; however, it can be and is used to offer good results to couples trying to get the wife pregnant. That being said, the Catholic church scholars have taught for centuries, millenniums actually, that “the ‘end’ DOES NOT JUSTIFY the ‘means’:” That’s a major point of Catholic theology; therefore the pope’s statement is inherently “wrong”, if he continues to support the statement that using any “artificial means” to prevent pregnancy in marital relations is wrong! There are truly several theological points that must be made by the church and the pope to correct this misconception, if you can allow me the use of a pun in this situation:
    1) Normal marital relations result in about a 50%, so called, “natural” abortions! In my opinion and the opinion of the learned teachers of the early church God is NOT INTERESTED in generating an incomplete fetus, infusing that fetus with eternal life, and then allowing that precious, sacred life to be snuffed out! This would mean that God “designed” nature to be the biggest abortionist in the world! NOT! I truly believe the teaching of the church around the time of Ambrose and others that accepted the FACT, I believe, that, just as God created man from earth AND THEN, or subsequently when man’s form was able to maintain life, God infused His spirit – life – into the viable, generated man, God also ONLY infuses sacred life, His spirit, into a fetus, when the fetus can sustain life on its own! This is NOT THE SAME as saying that God “infuses life” at the initial moment of conception. This is actually a huge misnomer anyway, as scientists have proven from studies that “conception” actually can take at least 48 hours! If the church was to re-examine this “truth”, perhaps never even taught “ex-cathedra” anyway, then the church leaders can make good, moral determinations in relation to the human generation of life within and without marriage!
    2) The church needs to abandon their “games” being “played” around this issue by holding firm to the theological truth that the end never justifies the means. Understanding the earlier truth of God’s infusion of life and spirit into a fetus, when the fetus can maintain itself outside the womb, would allow the use of just about any contraception method, thus allowing a couple to plan their pregnancies, which is a very key, very wise use of human talent to assure a couple is properly prepared for parenting and providing the needs of their children! At the same time this actual truth would release God from any consideration as “The Great Abortionist!”
    This is all really very simple, when the truth that was learned and taught replaces man-made “conveniences” of “interpretation”, which have resulted in mis-interpretation of major life issues, e.g. conception and life, for instance!

  14. The Catholic church has listened to people, like Constantine (not even a Christian until baptized on his death bed), who directed a lot of Vatican I, to “produce” teachings that are complicated and “man-made” – something about which Christ warned! For instance, who would believe that there actually exists the magesterium of the pope, which contains, ordinary magesterium, extraordinary magesterium, and “both” infallible and non-infallible actions of both of these “types” of papal “magesterium”?! To me this “smacks” of the work of Constantine to “join together” violent, competing “faith” entities, who were setting Rome on fire and keeping Constantine from sending his forces out to properly maintain his ever-extending kingdom on earth! Sound familiar?! Anyway, Constantine “joined” pagan worship format and the pagan “priests” with very early Christian faithful, who worshiped in small groups in their homes and occasionally in public praetoriums, where the faithful prayed for each other, layed hands on each other, and ministered to each other, while planning for world ministry, justice, peace, etc. work! The pagan priests were the only people to speak during their “services” and they spoke from high, aloof podiums and placed their “faithful” in pews facing one direction – does this sound familiar?! You can bet that Constantine had a hand in generating the “confusing” and apparent “magic” of papal “magesterium”!
    Christ would have taught this “truth” to his disciples, if it was to be a key part of the church actions; however, what Christ showed was Peter lying about knowing Christ, repenting, being forgiven and starting his faithful journey as an Apostle and disciple of Christ in renewed form! Peter walking out on the stormy sea, at Christ’s beckoning, sinking because of Peter’s fear and undeveloped faith, and needing to be saved by Christ’s hand!
    Christ never taught about the pope, never taught about “magesterium”, yet DID warn against the plethora of man-made “laws” concerning the Jewish faith that led people astray from true faith in and worship of God!

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